« PreviousContinue »
PLAN OF CONSPIRATORS REVEALED.
PROCEEDINGS IN CONGRESS.-I
HILST the country at large, solemnly impressed by the thick gathering portents of a fearful storm, was vio agitated, and all eyes and hearts were turned anxiously toward the National Congress and the Executive of the Government for assurances of safety, the halls of that Congress presented some strange spectacles for the patriot, the philosopher, and the historian. The line of demarkation between the patriots and the conspirators in that body had been early and distinctly drawn by the latter, as we have observed, with amazing boldness; and while the former, sincerely wishing to be just, were ardently seeking for some honorable way for conciliating the malcontents, the traitors were implacable and defiant. At all times they plainly revealed their determination not to agree to any terms for conciliation, even if such terms should offer more than they demanded; and they looked upon the yielding spirit of the true men in Congress as an exhibition of that subserviency, born often of an intense love for the Union, which had forever been making concessions to the Slave interest, to the mortal hurt of the nation.
There was perfect unity of action between the conspirators in Congress and the conspirators and politicians working in the Slave-labor States. They wrought harmoniously; those at the seat of Government directing important movements, and those who controlled political affairs in the several States executing them with energy, secrecy, and success, for the corrupt State Legislatures were auxiliaries in the business of the enslavement of the people by the Oligarchy. This evident harmony of action we have observed while considering the secession movements in the seven Cotton-growing States. The public suspected it after the rebellious acts of the South Caro• 1860. lina politicians, late in December;" and early in January it was authoritatively proclaimed, in an anonymous communication published in the National Intelligencer at the seat of Government, and signed EATON. It was written by a "distinguished citizen of the South, who formerly represented his State in the popular branch of Congress," and was then temJanuary 5, porarily sojourning in Washington.' He charged that a caucus was held on the preceding Saturday night' in that city, by the Senators from seven of the Cotton-producing States (naming them'), who,
1 National Intelligencer, January 9, 1861.
These were, Benjamin Fitzpatrick and Clement C. Clay, Jr., of Alabama; R. W. Johnson and William K. Sebastian, of Arkansas; Robert Toombs and Alfred Iverson, of Georgia; Judah P. Benjamin and John Slidell,
EVIDENCES OF CONSPIRACY.
at that time, resolved, in effect, to assume to themselves the political power of the South, and to control all political and military operations for the time; that they telegraphed directions to complete the seizure of forts, arsenals, custom houses, and other public property, as already recorded in preceding pages, and advised conventions then in session, or soon to assemble, to pass ordinances for immediate secession. They agreed that it would be proper for the representatives of the "seceded States" to remain in Congress, in order to prevent the adoption of measures by the National Government for its own security.
"They also," said this writer, "advised, ordered, or directed the assembling of a convention of delegates from the seceding States, at Montgomery, on the 15th of February. This can, of course, only be done by the revolutionary conventions usurping the powers of the people, and sending delegates over whom they will lose all control in the establishment of a provisional government, which is the plan of the dictators." They resolved, he said, to use every means in their power to force the Legislatures of Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia, and Maryland, into the adoption of revolutionary measures. They had already possessed themselves of all the avenues of information in the South-the telegraph, the press, and the wide control of the postmasters; and they relied upon a general defection of all the Southern-born members of the Army and Navy. "The spectacle here presented," he said, "is startling to contemplate. Senators, intrusted with the representative sovereignty of States, and sworn to support the Constitution of the United States, while yet acting as the privy counselors of the President, and anxiously looked to by their constituents to effect some practical plan of adjustment, deliberately conceive a conspiracy for the overthrow of the Government through the military organizations, the dangerous secret order of the Knights of the Golden Circle, Committees of Safety, Southern Leagues, and other agencies at their command. They have instituted as thorough a military and civil despotism as ever cursed a maddened country." These charges were sustained by an electrograph, which appeared in the Charleston Mercury on the 7th," dated at Washington City on the 6th. "The Senators," it said, "from those of the Southern States which have called conventions of the people, met in caucus last night, and adopted the following resolutions :—
“Resolved, That we recommend to our respective States immediate
• January, 1861.
“Resolved, That we recommend the holding of a General Convention of the said States, to be holden in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, at some period not later than the 15th day of February, 1861."
These resolutions, and others which the correspondent did not feel at liberty to divulge, were telegraphed to the conventions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. He said there was much discussion concerning the propriety of the members of Congress from seceding States retaining their seats, in order to embarrass legislation, and added, "It is believed that the opinion that they should remain, prevailed." The truth of these statements
of Louisiana; Jefferson Davis and Albert G. Brown, of Mississippi; John Hemphill and Lewis T. Wigfa 1 of Texas; and David L.. Yulee and Stephen R. Mallory, of Florida.
SAD POSITION OF THE PRESIDENT.
was confirmed by the letter written by Senator Yulee (already referred to'), on the 14th of January, in which he inclosed a copy of the resolutions passed at that meeting, in one of which they resolved to ask for instructions, whether the delegations from "seceding States" were to remain in Congress until the 4th of March, "for the purpose of defeating hostile legislation.” The other, and last, resolved "That a committee be, and are hereby, appointed, consisting of Messrs. Davis, Slidell, and Mallory, to carry out the objects of the meeting." It was also stated, in a dispatch from Washington to the Baltimore press, dated the day after "Eaton's" revelations appeared, that "the leaders of the Southern movement are consulting as to the best mode of consolidating their interests in a confederacy under a provisional government. The plan is to make Senator Hunter, of Virginia, Provisional President, and Jefferson Davis Commander-in-chief of the Army of Defense. Mr. Hunter possesses, in a more eminent degree, the philosophical character of Jefferson than any other statesman now living."
These revelations; the defiant attitude of the traitors in Congress, in speech and action; the revolutionary movements at Charleston; the startling picture of the perilous condition of the country, given in a Special
⚫ January, Message of the President on the 8th," and the roar of the tornado of secession, then sweeping fearfully over the Gulf States, produced the most intense and painful excitement in the public mind. That Message of the 8th, under the circumstances, seemed like a cry of despair or a plea for mercy from the President, who seemed painfully conscious, after the departure of the South Carolina Commissioners and the disruption of his Cabinet, that faith in the promises of the conspirators, which had lured him all along into a fatal conciliatory policy, could no longer be entertained or acted upon without imminent peril to the nation and his own reputation. He perceived that the golden moment, when vigorous action on his. part might have crushed the serpent of secession, had passed, and that the reptile had become a fearful dragon; and now he earnestly entreated Congress to appease the voracious appetite of the monster, and still the turbulence that alarmed the Executive, by concessions equivalent to the Crittenden Compromise. He assured that body that he considered secession a crime, and that he should attempt to collect the public revenue everywhere, so far as practicable under existing laws; at the same time he declared that his executive powers were exhausted, or were wholly inadequate to meet existing difficulties. To Congress alone, he said, "belongs the power to declare war, or to authorize the power to employ military force, in all cases contemplated by the Constitution," and on it "alone rests the responsibility." And yet he did not ask that body to delegate powers to him for the purpose of protecting the life of the nation. "It cannot be denied," he said, "that we are in the midst of a great revolution;" but instead of imploring Congress, and his political friends in it, with the spirit of a vigilant and determined patriot, to give him the means to stay its progress, he contented himself with offering insufficient reasons why he had not already done so, by re-enforcing and provisioning the garrison in Fort Sumter before it was too late, and also by urging Congress to submit to the demands of the revolutionists.
1 See page 166. See also a notice of Slidell's Letter in note 2, page 182.
PATRIOTISM IN CONGRESS.
In this the President acted consistently. He well knew that the political constitution of the two Houses at that time was such, that no Force-bill could be passed. Besides, Attorney-General Black had expressed his doubts whether Congress had the ability "to find constitutional powers to furnish the President with authority to use military force" in the execution of the laws; and in view of the position which he had assumed in his Annual Message on the subject of "coercion" and "subjugation of a State," he would feel in conscience bound to veto any Force-bill looking to such action. He did not ask Congress for any more power, nor did he give a word of encouragement to the loyal people that he would heed the warning voice of the veteran General Wool, and others, who implored the Government not to yield Fort Sumter to the insurgents, and thereby cause the kindling of a civil war. "So long as the United States keep possession of that fort," said Wool, "the independence of South Carolina will only be in name, and not in fact." Then, with prophetic words, whose predictions were fulfilled a few weeks later, he said:"If, however, it should be surrendered to South Carolina, the smothered indignation of the Free States would be roused beyond control. It would not be in the power of any one to restrain it. In twenty days two hundred thousand men would be in readiness to take vengeance on all who would betray the Union into the hands of its enemies. Be assured that I do not exaggerate the feelings of the people." The soldier, with a statesman's sagacity, correctly interpreted the will of that people.
As the plot thickened, and the designs of the conspirators became more manifest, the loyal men in Congress were more firmly rooted in a determination to withstand the further aggressions of the Slave interest and the malice of the public enemies. This determination was specially apparent when the Crittenden Compromise, and other measures looking toward conciliation, were considered in the Senate and House of Representatives. Appalled by visions of civil war, distracted by discordant oracles and counselors, and anxious to have reconciliation, and union, and peace at almost any sacrifice, the people, no doubt, would have acquiesced in Mr. Crittenden's propositions. But their true representatives, better instructed by experience and observation concerning the perfidy of the traitors before them, who might accept those measures as a concession, but not as a settlement, and would be ready to make a more insolent demand another year, could not be induced to wrong posterity by a desertion of the high and holy principles of the Declaration of Independence for the sake of temporary ease. They could not consent to have the National Constitution so amended, that it should be forever subservient to the truculent Slave interest and its desolating influence. They plainly saw that such would be the effect of the most vital of the amendments of it proposed by Mr. Crittenden. They did not doubt his patriotism, yet they deemed it wise and prudent to act upon the suggestions of the first President of the Republic, when, warning his countrymen against attempts to destroy the Union, he said :-"Oue method of assault may be to effect, in the forms of the Constitution, alterations which impair the energy of the system, and
1 See page 70. * See page 72.
Letter to General Cass, dated Troy, December 31, 1860.
4 See the substance of these propositions recorded on pages 89 and 90.
PLANS OF CRITTENDEN AND DAVIS.
thus to undermine what cannot be directly overthrown."_"I most cheerfully accord to the Senator from Kentucky purity of motive and patriotic intentions and purposes," said Henry Wilson, one of the most active and vigilant men in the Senate. "While I believe every pulsation of his heart throbs for the unity and perpetuity of this Republic; while I cherish for him sentiments of sincere respect and regard, I am constrained to say here, and now, that his policy has been most fatal to the repose of the country, if not to the integrity of the Union and the authority of the Government. Whether his task be self-imposed, or whether it be imposed upon him by others, he has stood forth, day by day, not to sustain the Constitution, the Union, and the enforcement of the laws; not to rebuke seditious words and treasonable acts; but to demand the incorporating into the organic law of the nation of irrepealable, degrading, and humiliating concessions to the dark spirit of slavery."
It was, plainly perceived that Jefferson Davis, one of the most cold, crafty, malignant, and thoroughly unscrupulous of the conspirators, had embodied the spirit of Crittenden's most vital propositions in a more compact and perspicuous form, in a resolution offered in the Senate on the 24th of December," saying, "That it shall be declared, by amendment of the Constitution, that property in slaves, recognized as such by the local law of any of the States of the Union, shall stand on the same footing, in all constitutional and Federal relations, as any other species of property so recognized; and, like other property, shall not be subject to be divested or impaired by the local law of any other State, either in escape thereto or by the transit or sojourn of the owner therein. And in no case whatever shall such property be subject to be divested or impaired by any legislative act of the United States, or any of the territories thereof." In other words, the Constitution was to be made to recognize property in man, and slavery as a national institution. Speaking for the Oligarchy, Senator Wigfall, in a speech on the Crittenden Compromise, exclaimed:-" We say that man has a right to property in man. We say that our slaves are our property. We say that it is the duty of every government to protect its property everywhere. . . . If you wish to settle this matter, declare that slaves are property, and, like all other property, entitled to be protected in every quarter of the globe, on land and on sea. Say that to us, and then the difficulty is settled." Because the majority of the people of the United States would not consent to abase their Constitution, and make it subservient to the cause of injustice and inhumanity, the Oligarchy rebelled and kindled a horrible civil war!
We have observed that a Committee of Thirteen was chosen by the Senate, and another of Thirty-three by the House of Representatives, to receive, consider, and report upon plans for pacification. These committees labored sedulously, but at every step they were met by evidence that the conspirators would not be satisfied with any thing that might be offered. These men were holding their seats in Congress, and committing perjury every hour, for no other purpose than to further their plans for the destruction of the Republic; and when they could be no longer useful there, they
1 Washington's Farewell Address to his Countrymen.
2 Speech in the National Senate, February 21, 1861.
Congressional Globe, December 24, 1860.
* See pages 86 and 89.